Mirror, mirror, on the wall...
Networks and networking are powerful tools for learning and for improving the wellbeing in rural areas, but also, for delivering rural development policy. Networks help to generate and multiply social capital (e.g. a sense of sharing, changing behaviour, developing common capacities and skills, fostering innovation and enhancing the trust among network members).
Evaluation can help networks to understand if they are conducting the right activities for the right stakeholder groups. Before starting an evaluation, one should ask the questions:
‘What do we need to know about our own work? For which areas would it be most beneficial to get an external point of view? And, are we open to use evaluation findings to help us improve our tasks?’.
The Evaluation Helpdesk has discussed the above questions with representatives of National Rural Networks and learnt that most networks have the ultimate goal to use evaluation to identify areas for improvement on what they are doing and to learn about key factors for successes and failures. External evaluation is also seen as an important tool to provide an independent view and to generate impartial recommendations on the future work of the network. Furthermore, in times of decreasing public resources, it is seen as important to establish robust evidence on the extent in which networks are meeting their objectives as well as on the impact and added value of the network itself. This type of evidence can help networks show their stakeholders and taxpayers how money was spent, what has been achieved and at what cost (transparency and accountability).